First, you have to ask yourself what do you want to accomplish. When I was introduced to long range shooting, immediately a light turned on for me, once I saw how easy it was to hit 300–600 yard targets or in my mind, now having the ability to hunt without the normal “out of range” limitations. Having been a professional guide in Wyoming guiding hunters for 8 hunting seasons and having the opportunity to hunt giant Mule deer bucks, many times you would find yourself in a scenario where we could see them across a canyon but there was no possible way to get close enough to them to make the shot. Well, not anymore… now 300–600 yards is just a chip shot!
What I quickly learned from my first competition and the many that followed was there is so much to learn and shooting in competition put everything you thought you knew to the test. So now 12 years after shooting my first competition in SE Oklahoma at Badlands Tactical Training Facility hosted by Bobby Whittington I’m still in love with long range rifle competitions. I remember walking away from my first match feeling pretty good about my mid-pack finish, after all, I was competing against some of the region’s best shooters, including military and law enforcement snipers and some guy named Terry Cross, who had already had a reputation of being unbeatable. So back to the question… What do YOU want to accomplish. The reality is you may not know yet, you just think it is cool to have a bad ass rifle and scope that can make almost any shot. Now if you got that rifle and scope, it’s time to take it to the next level.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Shooting in competition is taking your shooting abilities to the next level. But before you jump into it head first, you may want read this to fast-track your knowledge before jumping in blind and becoming frustrated with a poor performance. An overall knowledge base is essential for shooting competitions.
Where to start? If your reading this, you have probably already have been bitten by the long range shooting bug and you may be on the fence about competition shooting. Understandably so, because you’re not sure who these people are, all dressed up in tactical gear, some folks look like Special Force operators, others look like professionals with jerseys. It can seem quite intimidating to just jump in with a new bunch of shooters you don’t know with shooting lingo you don’t quite understand yet, but here is the key…. Are you ready … shut up, show up and shoot! I guarantee you if you show up to a match as a new shooter, other experienced shooters will guide you along and give you help on anything you need or ask. That’s the kind of people we are. We shoot because we love it and we want you to enjoy it too. Now, a couple things you should just expect. You’re not as good as you think you are, don’t expect to come into your first match and beat all the veteran’s, that just doesn’t happen unless you have had some really good coaching or other shooting competition experience to get you ready for this type of competition. IF AT ALL POSSIBLE, find a local rifle club that has monthly long range matches, any type of match will help prepare you for a larger PRS event. I knew a guy that hosted balloon shoots every so often at his home range, shooting small balloons from 300- 700 yards, I had a lot of fun shooting against some of these guys, turns out, a lot of those guys crossed over from that to Long Range Hunting type competitions and now to more formalized PRS events. Rick Reeves the host of the 4R Balloon Shoots turned out to be quite the competitor himself, finishing the 2014 PRS regular season points race in 4th place and getting his first PRS match win. If you’re still unsure of where to find a local rifle event check-out the competition forums in Sniper’s Hide, alsothe PRS website will soon have a compilation list of legit rifle clubs across the nation. Getting involved with a rifle club and starting out shooting monthly matches is definitely the way to jump in to competition shooting.
The first question that many ask is what kind of rifle/caliber/scope (GEAR) do I need. The easiest answer to this is, the best you can afford. It’s no secret the gear is expensive. It took me several years buying sub-par gear and eventually trading up to figure this out. Now, a guy can get a real since of pride of doing it on the cheap, or with a factory rifle, I’ve seen many old Savage 10fp’s take down custom rigs worth 10 times their value. And if that’s all you can afford then it is what it is and eventually you will learn the limitations of yourself or your gear. Now then, if money isn’t an inhibiting factor, then study up a little, but buy the best gear that you can find. Here is a some comprehensive data collected over 3 years from the best shooters in the nation within the Precision Rifle Series WHAT THE PRO’s USE http://precisionrifleblog.com/2014/10/14/rifle-calibers-what-the-pros-use/
Now that you got the gear, it’s time to PRACTICE. If you’re not familiar with reloading you will need to get yourself familiar with best practices and equipment for reloading. Producing quality reloads is something you have to master. It’s not hard at all, you just have to pay attention to detail, and eventually you are going to do something stupid like miss priming your brass, or skip a row brass when dumping your powder. Everybody has their own horror story of some reloading failure that cost them a stage or even a match. (My worst was at the 2013 PRS Championship when I missed loading about 10 rounds with powder and it ended up costing me 2 stages). So load to perfection, work with your rifle to find what load it likes the best, then start your practice. You are going need access to a range where you can get distance, preferably to a 1000 yards. Many new shooters to our sport are not natural shooters, or in other words didn’t grow up hunting or shooting a lot and don’t have the natural ability of making the rifle a natural extension of themselves. Some of the best initial practice you can do is becoming ONE with your rifle, learning everything you can about its functionality. How it works best, little things like the sound and feel of the bolt feeding a round from the mag or when it doesn’t, learning how to remove a jammed round quickly, learning how to reload a magazine quickly, learning how to drop down into the prone position to your rifle from the standing position and instantly point and find your target. Learning to scan across a field and find targets in a quick manner, seeing the targets with your eye and coming into the scope on target. Learning the feel of your trigger, dry-firing until you wear the paint off your bolt handle, these are some of the best basic practices that separate the new shooters from the seasoned ones. Getting comfortable with the operation of your rifle is the first key practice.
How should you practice? You should practice to perfection and to build confidence. What this means for me is I will usually start with confidence builders. No matter what, where or why, I always start out on paper with a 100 yard zero confirmation and usually some 1” dot drills for some easy practice or shooting some groups working on both muscle memory and basic fundamentals (breathing, sight alignment, body positioning and trigger control) I’m sure really good shooters think of the fundamentals all the time, I usually do not unless I catch myself in a bad habit or missing unexplainably. However, for the new shooter, until you can get into good habits and consistently make the shot go where you aim you got to become fundamentally sound.
Next, run it out. Set up a line of known distance targets, I usually shoot from 300–1000 in one hundred yard increments for the sake of gathering good dope. Try and use big targets that are freshly painted, you will waste a lot less rounds knowing exactly where you hit versus missing and not knowing for sure where you missed. Learn from every round. Ask yourself why that round hit where it did. As you work your way out always ensure you log your elevation impact to the center of the target, don’t just call it good if it’s 1 or 2 tenths of mil low or high. This the simplest and most effective way of getting good dope and getting ready for a competition. A lot of people just don’t make the time to get accurate solutions for their rifles, consequently they will be estimating their velocity/elevation based off of ballistic programs and hopefully a good chronograph reading.
Stage replication. Once you have gathered good dope for your rifle it’s time to replicate a stage under time. You should have a good idea of some of the stages you may see based on what match you’re going to or from learning the match director’s venue and style. There are plenty of resources to review, past match books, online reviews, match videos or just call or email someone who has been to the match before and ask if they know what to expect. Once you have an idea of some of the stages go ahead and set up a stage. Be sure to use a timer so you can get a feel of the pace you will need for the stage. Work on the same stage until you get all the hits under the par time. Then you can work on speed. Speed will come but make sure accuracy comes first. All too often shooters rush to make the shot, only to miss. If there is 10 targets and you can only engage 6 of them under time then be sure to hit all 6. Many times an inexperienced shooter will rush to finish the stage and get the shots off but sacrificing hits. When you actually get to a match you will see this happen in a lot of stages, MD’s will typically set up a stage to rush the shooter to complete all his shots. The best thing to do is, #1 recognize that this stage is not a cleanable stage (for you) and watch some of the better shooters go through the stage and then access a goal for yourself (6/10 pts).
Speaking of Goals. Going into your first match, you may not know what kind of goals you can set for yourself but I’ll give you few you should consider. • Have fun; don’t worry about your finish. • Learn as much as you can from the best shooters, ASK QUESTIONS! • Load your ammo to perfection, one less variable to worry about. • Go into the match with a solid zero AND good dope with environmental solutions.
In the Article 2, I will discuss more on Match Planning, shooting solutions and shooting tips.
Article 3, I will discuss the mental game.
The Precision Rifles Series is composed of tactical rifle shooters from around the country. Head over to their website for more information